If you’re too young to remember playing the original Pokemon, you’re definitely too young to remember the first generation of ATX tower PC cases and motherboards. For a walk through the history of the personal computer, check out the latest video on the PCWorld YouTube channel. Gordon tracked down a cutting-edge AMD K6-2 system in an InWin A500 case, and he’s giving a history lesson to all of us who don’t remember what computers looked like back then.
There are many differences between the original ATX machines and modern desktops. The whole thing is running away from a socket that could take AMD, Intel and Cyrix CPUs that didn’t even need a dedicated power rail. The CD-ROM drive had dedicated analog audio lines running to the motherboard. The system uses a single 256-megabyte SDRAM module (and that was quite ample for the day). Although there is no hard drive in this dinosaur, if there was, it would be connected by massive parallel ATA ribbon cables. Just make sure to disconnect them before you use the handy slide-out plate.
Want to overclock the single-core, 350 megahertz CPU? Don’t dig into the BIOS for voltage settings. These are controlled by dedicated jumper pins and blockers on the motherboard itself. These are physical connections, manually opening and closing circuits that controlled the voltage for the CPU, with a diagram of supported voltages and outputs printed directly on the circuit board!
But the expansion area of the board is where things get really interesting. The base model of this computer was quite limited, so it came with five, count ’em, five expansion cards, through three different types of connections. A slightly weakened SIS 6326 video card was plugged into the Accelerated Graphics Port, which allowed some computers to share video memory between the graphics card and main system. No retaining clip needed – these cards were light enough that they didn’t need them.
PCI slots (no “Express”) contain a 100-megabit Ethernet card and a phone modem built into an internal card, so you plug the phone line right into the computer. Two more cards are plugged into positively ancient ISA slots that were compatible with computers released as early as 1981. The cards are a fairly standard SoundBlaster sound card (note the game controller connection!) and a SCSI or “scuzzy” expansion port for ZIP drives and such devices
The motherboard’s main I/O panel includes separate PS/2 inputs for the mouse and keyboard (sorry Adam for thinking “Playstation 2,” he was a Mac guy), two 9-pin serial ports ( compatible with some hardware dating back to the 1960s!), and an LPT-1 printer port. But it’s not all ancient technology: this computer was advanced enough that it had two USB 1.0 ports, running at 1.5 megabits per second.
What does Gordon plan to do with this museum piece? You’ll have to watch the video to find out. (It’s right before the 30-minute mark, if you’re impatient.) But suffice it to say, you won’t want to miss how he uses it for the next video in this series. To make sure you don’t, subscribe to PCWorld’s YouTube channel!